Al Jazira sporting director Mads Davidsen on strategy for sustainable success, Omar Abdulrahman and Marcel Keizer

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  • (Al Jazira).

    Al Jazira now have strategy in place to become both “a top club in the UAE and a top club in Asia”, according to sporting director Mads Davidsen.

    The Dane – who previously helped orchestrate glory for Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese Super League – was hired last June to implement “sustainable sporting success” at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. Results have been encouraging since, with Marcel Keizer’s youthful squad sitting a promising second at the halfway stage despite possessing the Arabian Gulf League’s youngest squad (average age of 25.1) and being the only outfit who declined to fill their foreign quartet last summer.

    This process has been codified in recent weeks after a master plan, from the academy to the first team, was approved by the board.

    “First of all, you have to look at how you want to build a club,” said Davidsen on a Zoom call to reporters about this blueprint. “Today, football clubs are dependent on the head coach.

    “They give the coach the keys to the club and let him decide everything. Then after 17 months, statistically, they change the coach because they are not happy with the coach and throw the keys to the new coach and they hope again.

    “We look at it a little bit differently. We have described our style of play as a club, that’ll never change.

    “Even if the coach will change, the style of play, the football philosophy will never change. That is the core of our strategy.

    “A club-defined style of play, club-defined methodology, club-defined recruitment strategy.

    “We look at recruitment differently. We look internally first where most people look externally.

    “Do we need a right or left winger? What do we have in the academy?

    “Every time you buy a player, it delays someone’s development.

    “We are constantly balancing between when we really need to buy because of quality, or when the quality is not so high then you prefer to give chances to local players.

    “We want to aim to play as many home-grown players as possible. Our squad is already above 50 per cent [home-grown players], that should increase to maybe 60 per cent in coming seasons.

    “The academy is connected, it is the road towards developing better players. Adding in, of course, the foreign quality.

    “With a continuous style of play, that is our competitive edge. We’ll in future get better-and-better results and constantly be a top club in the UAE and constantly be a top club in Asia, playing AFC Champions League every season.”

    Jazira had previously been renowned for lavishing large sums on headline-grabbing non-Emirati additions such as George Weah, Phillip Cocu, Ricardo Oliveira, Abdelaziz Barrada and Manuel Lanzini.

    It was an approach which brought intermittent joy with AGL trophies in 2010/11 and 2016/17.

    Davidsen’s method has accelerated an existing shift in focus which has seen them regularly possess the most players in UAE squads. A seven-strong contingent was called up by the returning Bert van Marwijk for this month’s goalless friendly draw against Iraq.

    Coveted centre-back Khalifa Al Hammadi, the Whites’ youngest player at January 2019’s Asian Cup, is among those to ink a contract extension, until 2025. Renewals until 2023 were also awarded to Serbia defender Milos Kosanovic, South Africa midfielder Thulani Serero and UAE goalkeeper Ali Khaseif.

    Continuity is key, but this doesn’t mean recruitment is ignored. The Pride of Abu Dhabi added to their number last week with the loan return of academy product Mohamed Jamal after a brief stint at Al Ain which contained only one top-flight run-out.

    Rumours about a fourth foreigner persist ahead of the transfer market’s close on February 1.

    “[This is] A very good example of how people constantly talk about transfers, specifically foreign players,” said Davidsen. “If you take a player like Zayed Al Ameri, currently playing as a left winger.

    “Now he’s scored five goals and he’s developed very well this season and is back with the UAE national team.

    “Imagine if I’d signed a foreign player, do you think he would play?

    “You have to understand that every time you buy a player you are delaying someone’s development. We buy players if they are significantly better than what we have.”

    He added: “We have done what we have said and that creates credibility. We have told young players: ‘We believe in you.’

    “We’ve signed a lot of young player on longer contracts to show we believe in them.

    “We can only do that if we don’t buy players all the time. If I sign an 18-year-old and say to him I believe in him and the next day I sign a 26-year-old, then, basically, I lied to them.

    “We believe in the home-grown players. That’s why you’ll see limited signings for Al Jazira and more home-grown players.”

    But this doesn’t mean eye-catching winter business is off the table. Davidsen, intriguingly, teased the possibility “of a player coming into us” when quizzed.

    He stated: “No, we never change our strategy. This is very simple.

    “But that doesn’t mean we won’t sign any players. It isn’t black or white – it has to make sense.

    “We only look for value for money in the market. We will never be a club who overspends just to get individuals inside.

    “We see football as a collective game.

    “Maybe there will be a player coming into us. The window is still open

    “But it could also not happen. We are not stressed.

    “We believe in our players. Therefore, it is not something we are panicking about.”

    Keizer is pivotal to the profitable delivery of this strategy. Schooling as a player and coach at Ajax has been apparent through two tenures at MBZ Stadium.

    The 52-year-old came back to Jazira in October 2019 on a deal until June 2021 after a short, trophy laden stint at Sporting Lisbon was abruptly terminated. He guided them up to third before 2019/20 was halted because of coronavirus, since going one better this season.

    Will the Dutchman be the next figure to sign fresh terms, especially if a comeback to the AFC Champions League – after what will be four years away – for 2022 is secured?

    “I cannot go into details about this, but it’s quite obvious that Marcel is doing a good job,” Davidsen replied. “We are happy with his performance, as well.

    “Then, we have to see.”

    Another prominent figure in the capital is 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman. The celebrated playmaker has, however, been waylaid with a knee injury since October 23’s 1-1 draw with Al Dhafra.

    Davidsen provided an updated on the 29-year-old’s condition.

    He revealed: “Amoory is doing his rehabilitation. He took an operation some months ago.

    “With this kind of injury, it’s always difficult to set a timeline.

    “It is a week-to-week monitor. But he is doing well and trying to get back fast as possible.”

    Jazira resume in the AGL on Friday with the visit of fourth-placed Al Nasr.